TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — In January, Daniel Jenkins announced he was transferring from Arizona to Washington State. He left school, but not for long.
“He was on his spring sabbatical,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez quipped. “He was taking his tour of the Northwest part of the country.”
A few months later, Jenkins was back, and on a rainy Friday night, the speedy senior made the most of Ka’Deem Carey’s absence in the Wildcats’ 35-0 season-opening victory over Northern Arizona.
Jenkins ran 91 yards for a touchdown, the third-longest rushing play in Arizona school history, and also caught a scoring pass in the opener of Rodriguez’s second season in Arizona.
“He had a great summer, he’s in great shape,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been probably the one most explosive player we’ve had in camp, so it was good to see him get that long run. He deserved this kind of nice performance.”
B.J. Denker threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jenkins and ran 30 yards for another score. Moments after Denker left the game in the fourth quarter, backup Javelle Allen ran 61 yards for a TD.
Tra’Mayne Bondurant had two interceptions, returning one 21 yards for a touchdown.
Carey, Arizona’s All-American running back and the nation’s leading rusher last season, was suspended for the game “per team policy,” the school said. The punishment apparently stemmed from trouble the running back had during the offseason, including an arrest for an incident involving his girlfriend. The charges were later dropped. Carey also was kicked out of a basketball game in a run-in with arena management and local police.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do the last four or five months,” Rodriguez said. “But we have team policies and team rules, and that stays in the house. But one of the ways to make it most effective is to have playing time taken away, and I’m sure Ka’Deem was hurting, because he’s a great competitor. So he should be playing in the next game.”
Jenkins gained 139 yards on just 12 attempts. Denker completed 9 of 13 passes for 87 yards and rushed for 71 yards in 13 carries.
Rodriguez had not announced a starting quarterback to replace the departed Matt Scott, but most assumed it would be Denker, and it was.
After the opening kickoff, the senior directed an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Denker completed both passes on the drive for 42 yards, including the TD toss to the wide-open Jenkins. Denker also rushed five times for 23 yards on the drive. He said he was never told he was the starter.
“I guess it was basically assumed, but I’ve never had a conversation with any offensive coach where he told me, ‘You’re the starter,'” Denker said. “When it was the first play of the game, I ran out there on the field and they didn’t stop me, so I assumed I was the starter.”
The rain began to fall a short time later, and neither offense accomplished much until Jenkins, a 5-foot-9 senior, raced up the middle and outran the Lumberjacks 91 yards to the end zone to make it 14-0 with 5:32 left in the half.
“The hole opened up like the Red Sea, and I just took it,” Jenkins said.
Did he think anyone would catch him?
“Not a chance,” he said.
The only longer TD runs in Arizona school history were a 96-yarder by Trung Canidate against San Diego State in 1997 and a 94-yarder by Nic Grigsby, also against Northern Arizona, in 2009.
“That’s what can happen with that kind of offense,” NAU coach Jerome Souers said of Jenkins’ big run. “That and the tipped interception to start the second half really took any momentum that we had out of the game.”
On the first play of the second half, quarterback Kyren Poe’s pass was tipped by freshman linebacker Scooby Wright, then intercepted by Bondurant, who returned it 21 yards for a touchdown to put the Wildcats up 21-0. It was Bondurant’s second career interception return for a score.
Northern Arizona was forced to punt from its own end zone later in the quarter, and Arizona took over at the Lumberjacks’ 48. After a pass-interference penalty, Denker found a hole up the middle and went 30 yards for a score, getting hit just before the goal line but getting into the end zone to put the Wildcats up 28-0 with 8:34 left in the third quarter.
Andy Wilder missed field goal attempts of 42 and 45 yards for the Lumberjacks, a Football Championship Subdivision school with 18 starters back from last season’s 8-3 Big Sky Conference team. Jake Smith missed a 26-yard attempt for Arizona.
Poe completed his first 10 passes for Northern Arizona and finished 21 of 36 for 176 yards. He was intercepted three times, all in the third quarter.
Zach Bauman finished with 71 yards on 21 carries. He needs 48 yards to become NAU’s career rushing leader.